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On Friday, Sept. 10, members of the Pitt community gathered to honor veterans and first responders, 20 years after Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial event, held outdoors at the Posvar Patio Amphitheater, brought together veterans, first responders, family members and others in the Pitt community to share how they remember the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
“It is so important to bring the community together to remember the events that occurred on 9/11,” said University of Pittsburgh Police Commander and Chair of the Veterans Affinity Group Shawn Ellies, who helped organize the memorial event. “The anniversary is a time to honor the sacrifices of the armed forces, first responders and communities. America will always observe 9/11 as a somber anniversary and not as a celebration.”
Josh Cannon, a scholar-mentor in the University Honors College and co-chair of the Veterans Affinity Group, started off the event as the MC, then handed the microphone to Pitt Emergency Coordinator Bob Chamberlain from the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management to share his personal relationship with the American flag. From those displayed at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to those he saw during his tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, the flag represented to him a source of safety and security.
Then Chamberlain handed the microphone to the audience. For the rest of the event, attendees took turns sharing their own experiences of 9/11: what they felt that day and how those emotions shaped the years of their lives that followed. Listeners heard stories of calls to action, of support for first responders, of fear for family or loved ones and of appreciation for the beauty and fragility of life.
The format, Cannon said, was suggested by Aryanna Berringer, director of Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services.
“It’s about looking back on it in a constructive way — we all felt this together, we all dealt with this together,” Cannon said. “It’s hard to be angry with someone you feel empathy for. We’re reminding ourselves of the empathy we can share.”
Steven Hernandez, a benefit coordinator in Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services, was on leave at the time of the attacks. He shared a story of the stress and uncertainty he felt after nine years as a member of the armed forces in Afghanistan and how a chaplain helped him come to understand that, even if he was uncertain about the larger impact of his work, he could still help those around him. “You still have the opportunity to go out there every day and do some goodness,” he said.
The theme running through each attendee’s story was an appreciation for the veterans and first responders who served at the time of the attacks, those who responded to a call to service in the aftermath and those who continue to serve today.
“This is a really important week for those of us who live in firefighter brotherhood,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor for Strategic Excellence Victoria Lancaster, herself the spouse of a firefighter. “I thank everybody for their service. I tell everybody on 9/11: You need to hug a first responder. It’s those folks who run in as we’re running out.”
— Patrick Monahan